Slovenia returns to the Euro and World Podium

After several years of drought medals have once again begun to arrive in Slovenia. Rejuvenated with a new trainer and changed composition of team “GIMPEX Straža”, in less than a year Slovenia have returned to the World and European rafting podium. In Costa Rica (R6) they won third place in the Slalom, Downriver and  Overall standings; at Euro Champs (R4) 2012 a Silver in H2H, bronze in the Sprint, silver in the Slalom and silver in the Downriver brought them second place in the Overall standings.

We interviewed Marko Mihelič, captain of the team, to tell us how much was luck and how much their hard work? – “You cannot win 5 medals because you had luck; this is a result of hard work! All the team members have full-time jobs while two of us are still students and for that reason we had a lot of individual training sessions in kayaks or canoes at the start of the season. Three months before the Euro Champs we started an intensive program. As an interesting fact – we started the raft training about 2 months before the main competition. Moreover, we also decided to include two 16-year-old youths in our team (here I mean that we included two youths in our team just at the start of the season of the Euro Cup Series. But the team in Lipno (Euro Champs) was the same as at WRC 2011) so actually the strongest line-up appeared at the Euro Champs.”

Marko tell me something about WRC ’11; it really was a fantastic achievement for you –“After WRC in Netherland a lot of changes happened in our team. Three new team members along with a new trainer and a new training program resulted in mixed feelings about expectations for the upcoming WRC in Costa Rica. After the Sprint and H2H we finished in 14th position and were totally disappointed. However, we didn’t stop believing in ourselves – especially because Slalom is our best discipline. This confidence was crucial for the team! We had a great second run in Slalom and that gave us some extra power for the last day of Downriver. Total attack on the river and a bit of luck in general classification resulted in unforgettable overall bronze medal celebration with our fans – best rafting fans in the world!”

It is true what he says about their fans, plenty of green on the bank when they come to the competitions. A great example for others to follow. Their vuvu-zelas are not so popular amongst the rest of the spectators though!

In H2H with the Hungarians at Euro Champs 2012, we watched the “insane” fight (to conjure up just a little as to how it feels from the boat) – a Hungarians broke his paddle in fight!

“The Hungarian team is definitely amongst the best H2H teams in Europe in the last years, so after Sprint we were praying not to get them as opponents before the final run. But we got them in first round which was not good :(

The start was great and after 30 meters we were in equal position. When both rafts came together, we tried to get in front of them with a stroke. While fighting, the first-right team member of Hungarian team broke his paddle and in that very moment we took a chance, gave our best and beat them. That win gave us a lot of confidence and in the end we got the silver medal.”

Slovenia is still famous for the success of their men’s team of the nineties. In the first five years of the Camel White Water Challenge in 1995, ’96, ’97, ’98, ’99, and (’98 and ’99 being recognised as the first official IRF World Champs) they dominated and this is still something that no one else has managed to do. Team “Bober” were the first to achieve the maximum of 1000 points in 1997 in the category of R6 and still hold the record today. And they did that on the mighty Zambezi River!

Can this rejuvenated team follow in the footsteps of Slovenia’s celebrate nineties team? We’ll see. But I can hardly wait for New Zealand 2013 just to see whether any team can reach that record of ’97.

Article by Nada